There’s this story in the Bible. You’ve probably heard it at least a dozen times or more. It’s actually told in all four gospels, this story about a huge hungry crowd and a meager collection of bread. It’s often titled “Jesus Feeds the Five Thousand.” But actually, that count only included the men…there were probably well over double that many hungry bellies on the mountain that day. (You can read about it in Matthew 14, Mark 6, Luke 9, and John 6).
The disciples saw the need, they knew the crowd was hungry, but they couldn’t for the life of them figure out how to feed them all.
But Jesus knew.
Here’s how The Message relates the story from John 6:5-13:
When Jesus looked out and saw that a large crowd had arrived, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy bread to feed these people?” He said this to stretch Philip’s faith. He already knew what he was going to do.
Philip answered, “Two hundred silver pieces wouldn’t be enough to buy bread for each person to get a piece.”
One of the disciples—it was Andrew, brother to Simon Peter—said, “There’s a little boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But that’s a drop in the bucket for a crowd like this.”
Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” There was a nice carpet of green grass in this place. They sat down, about five thousand of them. Then Jesus took the bread and, having given thanks, gave it to those who were seated. He did the same with the fish. All ate as much as they wanted.
When the people had eaten their fill, he said to his disciples, “Gather the leftovers so nothing is wasted.” They went to work and filled twelve large baskets with leftovers from the five barley loaves.
A little boy gave all that he had, a meager little meal of barley loaves and fish…and it was multiplied to feed thousands, with an abundance left over.
In another similar situation (found in Matthew 15 and Mark 9), Jesus and His disciples are faced with another hungry, needy crowd almost as large as the last: four thousand men, not including women and children. Again, the disciples see the need, but again they don’t know what to do. They don’t seem to remember what Jesus did before…they have an all-too-familiar sort of soul amnesia, forgetting Who they are with and what He can do.
Matthew 15:32-19 in The Message puts it this way:
After Jesus returned, he walked along Lake Galilee and then climbed a mountain and took his place, ready to receive visitors. They came, tons of them, bringing along the paraplegic, the blind, the maimed, the mute—all sorts of people in need—and more or less threw them down at Jesus’ feet to see what he would do with them. He healed them. When the people saw the mutes speaking, the maimed healthy, the paraplegics walking around, the blind looking around, they were astonished and let everyone know that God was blazingly alive among them.
But Jesus wasn’t finished with them. He called his disciples and said, “I hurt for these people. For three days now they’ve been with me, and now they have nothing to eat. I can’t send them away without a meal—they’d probably collapse on the road.”
His disciples said, “But where in this deserted place are you going to dig up enough food for a meal?”
Jesus asked, “How much bread do you have?”
“Seven loaves,” they said, “plus a few fish.” At that, Jesus directed the people to sit down. He took the seven loaves and the fish. After giving thanks, he divided it up and gave it to the people. Everyone ate. They had all they wanted. It took seven large baskets to collect the leftovers. Over four thousand people ate their fill at that meal.
After all the miracles they just witnessed, the disciples still questioned Jesus. “But where in this deserted place are you going to dig up enough food for a meal?”
Jesus responds simply with a question of His own: “How much bread do you have?”
*sigh* … How often am I just like these disciples?
I look around and I see a multitude of needs everywhere. It can be a bit overwhelming.
All you have to do is turn on the news, scroll through the feed and take a look at our world, and it won’t take long for the screen to fill with sobering images: people hurting and living in fear; girls abducted and sold as if they were worthless property; children, victims of war, left alone and bleeding; villages full of souls with bloated bellies and parched lips, not even a glass of clean water anywhere to be found; boatloads of desperate people piled onto makeshift rafts, risking their lives in the slender hope of uncertain safety; babies dying; scores of humanity suffering as slaves to one kind of addiction or another; murders and crime and chaos and tension…everywhere, the needy are everywhere.
The world is full of hungry people.
We don’t even have to look across the world to find the needs…they are right here, right down the street, right next door.
Our neighborhoods are full of hungry people.
My neighborhood is full of hungry people.
And just like the disciples, I see the overwhelming need and ask God, “What are you going to do? How are you going to help them? What’s your plan here?”
And Jesus whispers to my forgetful heart, “How much bread do you have?”
I read this book recently: Falling Free by Shannan Martin. I had the crazy joy of being on the book launch team so I got an early digital copy of the book, which I quickly devoured and then reread again, very slowly. It is the kind of book that sticks with you…it’s impossible to read it with an open heart and walk away unchanged in some way – whether it’s in how you see your neighbor down the street or the poor and battered soul on the corner or the kid who just got out of jail, or in how you view your bank account or your role in the Kingdom or your place at the table—this book captivates and inspires as much as it challenges and convicts. Every chapter left me wanting to lean in closer to the heart of Jesus and to really know and hear His heartbeat for this broken, busted-up, beautiful world around us.
Shannan writes about letting go of the life she always wanted, of loosening her grip on the things of this world, and embracing a life of selfless generosity and sacrificial love. She tells the story of her own journey, how she learned that the way up is actually down, how “weak is strong, small is big, and less has most definitely always been more.”
It’s an incredible story, actually…a story of obedience even through uncertainty, of faith even through loss, of community and love and strength even through brokenness and disappointment and imperfection.
It’s a story of trusting God, of letting go, of falling and finding freedom there.
“When we know the one who ordained the seasons and the wingspan of a singular burnished oak; who invented sugar and salt and the perfect sphere of a hardy cherry tomato; who knew how comforted we would be by things like wool and tea and the light in our babies' eyes: when we know him, we know that all his schemes, even the seemingly nutso ones, are for our gain. And when we trust that, when we really believe it, our fingers start to loosen their grip, and we reach out to touch the very edges of freedom.
That's what letting go is, after all. It's freedom."
- Shannan Martin
It’s a sincere story that has challenged me to take a hard and honest look at what I really treasure, and how it lines up with the heart of Jesus.
"It seems impossible that God would prefer that we let go of our excess or descend from the rings of our handcrafted success. We prefer a message of financial prosperity, imagining a God who might allow us to be the one camel who slips through the eye of the needle. Meanwhile, Jesus warns that wherever our treasure is, that's where our heart is (Matt. 6:21). In pursuit of our hearts, he reminds us that his is tethered to relationships, not things."
- Shannan Martin
It’s a story about living with open hands.
And it’s this idea of openhanded living and giving that has wrecked me lately.
I want to live openhanded...to open my hands to receive, whatever He gives...to receive all His gifts, the good and the hard, the bread for today, the grace upon grace. And then keep my hands open and extend them out...to give it away, to meet a need, to show His love, to share the grace.
Because there is enough. There is always enough in God's economy where less is more and small is big and love is never divided but always only multiplies.
But if I tighten my grip and close my hands around His gifts, claiming them as mine, as my own blessings for me to keep and do with as I please, as if I somehow earned them or deserve them more...if I don’t trust Him enough to open my hands...then I miss out. Not only can I not fully receive when my hands are closed tight, but I also miss the opportunity to experience the miracle that happens when I dare to open my hands and give it away.
Like the little boy with his small sack of loaves and fishes, God is asking me how much do I have, and then He asks me to give it *all* to Him...and then I get to watch the miracle multiply.
But here’s the thing…He doesn’t ask me to just give Him part of my loaf…He doesn’t ask for one tenth of it or a small fraction or just whatever I have left over after I’m full. He asks me to give it all. All of my dreams, all my plans, all my self-conceived notions of success, all my wealth and talents and abilities...He wants it all. Everything.
It’s a scary thing…to let go of what I have, to give up what I’ve dreamed of and planned for and worked so hard to attain, to loosen my grip and let it go and take whatever may come.
But if I do…if I trust Him and let go...He can take all that I have (which was never really mine to begin with anyway), and multiply it beyond my wildest dreams.
Falling Free by Shannan Martin will be released next week, on September 20th. You need this book in your life. You can pre-order it now at fallingfreebook.com and get some pretty great freebies, including this beautiful downloadable art print (I had mine printed as a 16x20 matte photo through Shutterfly, and I LOVE it so much!)